If ever there was a place where "the more things change, the more they stay the same," it's the Louisiana State Capitol. For decades, governors and legislators have promised reforms, particularly in the fiscal arena. Yet, for decades, nothing has really changed.
They raise our taxes to maintain government services, but within a few years we face another "fiscal crisis." So they raise our taxes again. And soon the "crisis" returns. And so on and so on and so on.
If money is the answer to Louisiana's problems, why haven't all those tax increases fixed the problem?
Because money alone isn't the answer. The truth is Louisiana is stuck in a 1930s mode of delivering government services -- one that makes even Mississippi and Arkansas look "modern" by comparison. Until we at least get into the 1970s, we will continue to bleed the economic life out of private citizens and businesses in order to maintain fiscally insatiable -- and grossly under-performing -- public institutions.
Simply put, we pay more and we get less, and we continue to put up with it because nobody seems able (or willing) to change things. So we continue to feed the beast.
That analysis is the upshot of a scathing report on Louisiana's fiscal problems. The report was delivered last week by, of all people, someone inside state government: Legislative Fiscal Officer Johnny Rombach.
Rombach is the guy legislators rely on for independent analysis of state fiscal matters. "Independent" is a relative term in Louisiana. In most cases, it means independent of the governor's office -- which puts its own spin on fiscal matters to suit the administration's needs -- but not necessarily independent enough to actually tell the unvarnished truth.
Johnny Rombach is a rarity in state government. He takes his independence seriously.
Rombach's report, "Louisiana in the Economic Vortex -- A Blueprint for Escape," tells in very plain language how Louisiana has continued its tax-and-spend policies, even when well-intentioned governors and legislatures tried to "reform" state government.
Predictably, officials in the administration are blasting Rombach and his report. But the truth is, Rombach gives Gov. Mike Foster the credit he deserves for trying to improve education at all levels. As much as I've criticized Gov. Warbucks myself, I give him very high marks for at least trying -- seriously trying -- to fix public education.
But, as Rombach notes, that's the essence of the problem: we're just throwing more money at a system that's broken.
No one in state government is likely to praise Rombach's report. They either are part of the problem (in which case they have a stake in defending the status quo) or are so caught up in the Beltway mentality that engulfs the Capitol that they have deluded themselves into believing they can make the broken system work. They can't.
Rombach points to several areas where the problem is worst: a centralized Charity Hospital system (instead of a regionalized or local one, as most states use); too many universities and "wanna-be" universities; and unwieldy bureaucracies in transportation, social services and education.
In other states, public health care is funded locally or regionally. Rombach also debunks the myth that it's all the fault of the state health care system by showing that combined state and local spending still exceed those of most southern states. In short, our public institutions are failing but it's not because taxpayers fail to support them adequately.
The report does not paint a pretty picture, but it is must reading for anyone who cares about where our state is headed (you can find it at www.forgotston.com or www.lalegisfiscaloffice.com at the bottom of the "Budget Documents" page). It is particularly timely in light of the statewide elections in October.
This is the perfect time for someone to step forward and point out what we all know deep down: that it's time to stop feeding the beast.